This week, M.S. in Bioethics director Dr. Robert Klitzman appeared on CNN to discuss the medical ethics implications in the case of the Germanwings disaster, a deliberate plane crash by suicidal co-pilot Andreas Lubitz that killed 150 people.
Klitzman said, “Technically and legally [in the U.S.], pilots who feel that there is a reason that they're not able to fly are obligated to notify their employer or the FAA.” He went on: “I think a larger question is what role, if any, the medical providers – the psychologists, the psychiatrists – might have.” He brought up the question of whether these mental health professionals have an obligation to notify employers or authorities, especially in cases such as this in which an at-risk person wields a fatal threat against themselves and possibly others.
“We don't want to stigmatize illness. We don't someone who has an illness not to seek treatment for it,” Klitzman said. He also remarked that, if any patient of his expresses the desire to harm himself and/or others, “I think, ethically, as a physician, I may have a duty to do something about it other than keep the information to myself.”
“We have a precedent for this,” he said. He referenced the Tarasoff case in which a U.C. Berkeley student confessed to a mental health professional an urge to kill his girlfriend, Tatiana Tarasoff. “The psychologist notified the campus police at Berkeley but did not notify the girlfriend, Ms. Tatiana Tarasoff, or the police. [The medical practitioner] was found liable, legally, in court,” said Klitzman. He said that such concerns deserve consideration on an ethical level as well as a policy level.
Watch the rest of the interview on CNN.